PDF 2.0: Digital signatures

PDF 2.0 makes it possible to digitally sign documents – and more importantly, in a manner by which you can be sure that the signature has in fact originated from the signatory in question.

Recent years have seen the increasing importance of being able to transmit confidential documents using the World Wide Web. One good example of this are invoices, many of which are only sent by email nowadays. Not to mention how we see contracts, notarized, and other official documents and messages being exchanged digitally more and more often.

Still, there is much skepticism when it comes to the trustworthiness of electronically transmitted documents. The more official and important the (confidential) correspondence, the greater the fear that you might be dealing with a fake. And yet despite all the precautions, people still fall for such shams and too often wind up turning over their passwords and bank account information to cyber criminals. Here the fault lies with those signature-averse companies so often castigated in the media that would rather save money than spend it on the certificates needed for trusted digital signatures.

The new PDF 2.0 promises to make affixing digital signatures to documents a lot easier, while at the same time ensuring that at no time during the workflow will third parties be able to manipulate the document.

What makes all this possible is the ISO-32000-2 standard, which also supports CMS Advanced Electronic Signatures (CAdES). CMS is a general framework for electronic signatures in digital documents, such as PDF files. So, what is the advantage of CAdES? Simple: The electronically signed document remains valid over a long period of time, even if the underlying algorithms are broken.

PDF 2.0 and its many new features have not yet drawn much attention – but chances are good that as digitally signed documents gain in significance, so too will the importance of this new portable document format. And this is something very desirable in the interests of secure digital communication.